5 Lessons from a Kickstarter Expert

18 May 2017

I’m at a convention today, so this guest post is brought to you by Daniel Zayas. I’ve been in contact with Daniel through various Kickstarter communities on Facebook for a while now, and I thought he’d have some helpful insights for my fellow creators.

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My name is Daniel Zayas, and I am a Kickstarter Expert.

*groan*

No, really. I am! This is not the same thing as someone claiming to be a social media guru or a marketing wizard. Kickstarter staff vetted me similar to how they would a job interview. They reached out to references and asked me about how I help campaigns fund. Then they listed me here, along with a handful of other legitimate consulting businesses.

So then what exactly is a Kickstarter Expert?

Kickstarter Experts are paid consultants with experience running and advising successful Kickstarter projects. These consultants are not directly affiliated with Kickstarter, and Kickstarter does not earn a referral fee if you hire an Expert. Kickstarter Experts help with campaign strategy, storytelling, backer engagement and management, and more (emphasis on the “more”).

Here are the most recent examples of how I have worked with creators to develop campaigns which have the best shot at being successful.

People want to feel like they know how to play a game before they support a campaign financially.

This truth has evolved from rulebooks and how-to-play videos. On Skyways, currently on Kickstarter, I worked with the Eagle-Gryphon Games team to ensure we were teaching people the game in no more than 4-5 steps using gifs and clear text instructions.

This storytelling element is arguably the most important part of a campaign. This section needs to act as a friend casually teaching the game to a would-be customer. I picked up this neat trick from extensive conversations with Kim Brebach, who used this in his Unfair campaign, and James Hudson, who repeated this successful tactic in The Grimm Forest. This brings me to my next point…

The board game community is small. The Kickstarter board game community is smaller still.

The Bridges to Nowhere team, Doomsday Robots, added me to their project a few weeks before launch. What they were having trouble with primarily was marketing, as most creators might be familiar with.

In marketing, the goal is to never need to send a press release. After all, why would you send a press release to a friend? Rather, the goal is to develop mutually beneficial friendships with industry influencers and stakeholders so they organically find out about your projects.

I helped the Doomsday Robots team with marketing decisions and page layout the same as every other campaign, but I also sped up quite a few online interactions where they were not getting replies fast enough.

My advice to new creators is to join the Board Game Reviewers Facebook Group and then join the groups in this file. Make genuine connections to people in these groups and they will help you when you need them.

Create a Minimum Viable Product.

With A.E.G.I.S., currently on Kickstarter, the biggest hurdle the Zephyr Workshop team and I overcame was how to package an infinitely expandable game system efficiently.

At first, the team had built the game as separate core box sets, so the funding goal reflected the need to manufacture 3-4 different products within one campaign. This tactic unfortunately resulted in two failed campaigns.

We worked to create one minimum viable product, and then stretch to include new robots and terrain tiles. This strategy required a lot of attention to the cost of goods and scales of economy. We needed to price the game accurately if we unlocked no stretch goals, but also for if we unlocked all stretch goals. Then we needed to find a happy space in that quote which takes into account a customer’s perceived value in a pledge!

I am happy to report that this effort was well worthwhile, as the campaign funded in the first day and is still going strong.

Art is king, and the king requires parading.

I joined Mystic Tiger Games’ Manaforge project mid-campaign, and at the time the campaign had stalled and didn’t look too promising. In talking with the creator, I asked him, “What is the coolest thing about your game?” His answer was that the mechanics are very fun.

I quickly corrected him and reminded him about all the great artwork which had been produced for the game, most of which the public had no idea existed. There wasn’t enough art examples on the campaign, or shared on social media.

So we got to work reformatting the page for best practices and showered fans on social media with tons of Manaforge artwork, which reinvigorated interest in the game. When those people arrived at the polished campaign, Manaforge skyrocketed from its initial stagnation and we funded.

The basics of a game campaign are still important. What has changed is how you polish the presentation.

Loot and Recruit will be relaunching later this month after a couple years’ hiatus, and we heavily updated the previous campaign to reflect what backers expect now. Using the old campaign, you can see that they already had a 3D box setup, reviews, a rulebook, a how-to-play video, a basic gameplay explanation, list of components, pledge level explanations, stretch goals, a team section, and a thank you section.

Now, if you compare that with the new campaign, the same items are there, but the order and format has changed quite a bit:

  • Instead of a 3D Box, now you have the game setup.
  • Instead of many heavy text reviews, we’ve opened with video content.
  • Instead of the wordy how-to-play section, we have used simple instructions with gifs.
  • The card art in the components section is now our star, versus being hidden in the old campaign.
  • The pledge levels were reduced to present an easier decision for backers.
  • The stretch goals now have the thematic flair of a Dr. Seuss-like stack of goblins.
  • There is even now a dedicated shipping section with a polished graphic.

All of these things set an okay campaign apart from a campaign you know is going to do really well.

***

I hope to have shed some light on the Kickstarter Experts program and how I help creators build campaigns which fund. To be clear, I think Kickstarter is still an open platform for anyone of any experience level to create new products without a Kickstarter Expert. The difference is that many new creators (even Stonemaier Games) learned a lot from each campaign they ran and strived to avoid those same pitfalls in future campaigns.

I started three years ago as green as any new creator. Through many hours studying nearly every launched campaign, as well as through communication with Jamey Stegmaier, James Mathe, Timothy Cassavetes, and countless others, I have developed a very reliable system which continuously updates based on what I observe on Kickstarter itself. I currently blog and hustle on dzayas.com, publishing a weekly list of my favorite tabletop Kickstarter campaigns. Thanks to Jamey for inviting me to do this blog post. Feel free to friend me on Facebook or Snapchat and I hope to connect with you all soon!

22 Comments on “5 Lessons from a Kickstarter Expert

  1. I wish more creators would pay attention to your first point. I can’t tell you how many campaign pages I’ve left because it was too hard to find out information on how the game is played.
    Many had videos and links to rulebooks, but when I’m quickly browsing campaigns (And there are a LOT of them), I’m only stopping for a minute to two if it catches my eye. I don’t have time for a 5-20 minute video to see if i’m even interested in the game.

    I’d much prefer a few images and text giving me the general overview of how the game is played. If I’m still intrigued, i’ll hunt for more/deeper information.

    1. That is exactly the point I try to drive home in guiding creators to distill their ruleset to something digestible. And I caveat with the point that this will be the most difficult thing we do in the campaign page, so I can understand why most creators settle for making a video. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. I remember when you posted that you were officially a Kickstarter Expert, it was a really nice thing to see. Thanks for all the facilities and the help you provide to the community.

    1. This is a really great opportunity for anyone who winds up in the comment section to see this and take away a very important lesson.

      Nobody can detract you from being successful when you take ownership of your mistakes. Nobody gets to embarrass me with this because I own those L’s. And small people will try. And they will always fail.

      I win now because I learned from my losses. That is why I am an Expert. New creators can learn from this not one particular skill. They should take away from this how lesser people will try to cut you down and they win when you give up.

      Thanks to Steve for allowing me to share that lesson.

      1. I 100% agree that it’s great to learn from your mistakes, so what is it that you learned in particular from this campaign?

        You say “Nobody can detract you from being successful when you take ownership of your mistakes” – yet I don’t see you taking ownership of that mistake anywhere? It’s not mentioned anywhere on your website or anything like that.

        Just wondering, based on your expert opinion, what was the main issues with that campaign? And how did the failure of that particular campaign change the way you approach your current consulting business?

        1. Considering after the campaign you point out as being so bad got him a job at not only Eagle Griffon Games. Also since he became a Kickstarter Expert he has helped several campaigns get funding. Manaforge would probably not funded had it not been from Daniel stepping in.

          Steve seems to be in trolling mode here. You claim no ill intent yet follow it up with the comment of being so out of touch about the game. Since Daniel has been to just about every major convention this year, plays a ton of games, and has helped multiple campaigns fund, I think Steve is just being a bit salty.

          1. Sorry you feel that way, I was just wanting to hear Daniel’s opinion on what he learned from that campaign. It’s unfortunate that anything that may be interpreted as ‘controversial’ immediately gets labelled as ‘trolling’. I feel like my questions were valid.

            Daniel has clearly swept this campaign under the rug in an attempt to distance himself from it. Instead, he should use it as a learning experience. Dissect the experience and pinpoint what went wrong, what he learned from the experience, and what he would do differently now that he has more knowledge in the area of Kickstarting board games. Would make a good blog post and addition to his website I would think.

            You should embrace your mistakes – they’re part of who you are and what led you to what you are today.

          2. Its not a controversial post it was a trolling one. The verbage you used was intentionally antagonistic and attempted to illicit a negative response from people so that you could justify a mindset that he does not deserve the Kickstarter Expert tag. In addition to that you make a follow up posts about a “controversial campaign” and swept under the rug as if it needs to be hidden.

            Daniel has shown that he has his pulse on what the Kickstarter community and what it takes to make a successful kickstarter campaign. Since he has had 3 campaigns fund recently, one of which would not have funded without his intervention and guidance.

            That campaign from over a year ago is irrelevant in today’s kickstarter market and your attempts to troll this expert is quite silly and ignorant.

            By the way if you look close you would see what the campaign did, but since you are short sighted you will probably miss why that campaign was so good for Daniel’s career.

            Have a good day.

            BTW I would not hide under many bridges in the US. Our infrastructure is not great and one could collapse and kill you without a moments notice.

          3. Mark: It’s my perception that Steve is asking an honest question. While it may not be worded with a ton of compassion, I’ve seen plenty of trolling in my day, and any indication that this is trolling is subjective at best. I will talk to Steve about it if it gets to that point or if he badgers Daniel for an answer.

            That said, the end of your comment (the bridge) is objectively inappropriate and even threatening. I have a zero tolerance policy for that type of behavior on my blog.

          4. Hello again! Just got back in town after travelling and can resume the comment threads! Yes, threatening or wishing violence or bad will is wrong. Stop that.

            I can comment on quite a few specific outcomes which came about either directly or indirectly as a result of my very first foray into self-publishing. Here are a few from the top of my head.

            It was callous, and insensitive, and tone-deaf, and all those things to think that Antichrist would be a viable product. But I entered into producing it under the general understanding that it would be an uphill battle if there was even a chance of it funding. The positive outcome of this is that it was sensational and industry-rocking. So much so that the campaign was live for all of 48 hours, but we are talking about it years later. That is called mindshare, and I captured it, and is something I advise all creators to find a way to do (but maybe in not so controversial a format).

            Here is another thing. At the time, I was using a very objective rubric and I was grading campaigns to form top 10 lists every week, as I have for a long time now. And my idea of the best campaign ever needed a stress test. What better stress test than a very very controversial topic, but everything else in the campaign done to a T per the rubric I had created? The good that came out of this was that my rubric as it was eventually died a swift and painful death as a direct result of this campaign. What replaced it was this higher emphasis on art, components and theme triumphing over any fancy mechanic or endorsement. That made my ongoing projects improve dramatically, even if I wasted a few months of development time and an afternoon photo directing a model and 48 hours in a doomed campaign.

            Lastly, I will leave you with this. Real friends are hard to come by when everything seems transactional in marketing and publishing. It was very easy for many people in the industry to write me off as a blip which had ruined all credibility at the conclusion of that campaign. But do you realize how much of a deeper connection I had to the fans and peers who stayed committed to my goals and ambitions? That is real and if I thought I could repeat that positive impact on my personal life I would repeat it over and over and over again.

            In any case, I hope this addresses your concerns as to whether I am some lunatic unfit for the title of Kickstarter Expert. I think I paid my dues and helped a lot of people, even if on the surface it seemed I was performing self sabotage with an insensitive campaign.

  3. Daniel,
    Thank you again for all the assistance you gave us at Doomsday Robots with our Bridges to Nowhere Kickstarter. We never expected to reach over a thousand backers and exceed our goal by 800+% and you did a lot to help us get there.

    For anyone who might be interested in pre-ordering a copy of Bridges to Nowhere you can go to http://www.doomsdayrobots.com/bridges-to-nowhere/

    Thanks

  4. This is a really great article :)

    There are some things there that I knew intuitively but wouldn’t have put into words and it’s pointed out something that was making me feel uncomfortable about my next campaign but that I couldn’t put my finger on. Thanks.

    1. There are many many specifics that I honestly didn’t cover here, such as the actual costs of shipping. Or that you can spread VAT across an entire EU pallet shipped to a fulfillment center and save boatloads, even considering the fees involved. Or that manufacturers need specific file formats and bleeds to speed up the printing process, and that not getting it right dissuades them from working with you in the future as well as being fatigued by Kickstarter campaigns as a whole. Or that sometimes it makes sense to advertise with one form of targeting over another, as the creative content in the ad is very situational. Or that you should advertise the stretch goals, not the campaign itself. These are things I have taken note of in working with campaigns.

  5. Hi everyone! I’m one of the designers for Loot & Recruit. I also did all the graphic design work for the game and Kickstarter, so I’ve been working closely with Daniel over the last few weeks. The difference between having a Kickstarter expert helping out is night and day compared to trying to do it yourself!

    As someone on the receiving end of this process, here are my thoughts on why it’s imperative to get a Kickstarter expert to help your campaign:

    – An expert, like Daniel, has one job, and that’s to always know the latest on trends in the industry. You don’t have time to create an amazing game/product and have time to learn everything about Kickstarter (and if you do try you’ll spread yourself thin).

    – Another benefit of having an expert is they help you layout everything you need to create for the campaign. Rather than me spending hours trying to decide what we needed to create, Daniel took his time to develop an outline of what needed to be included. This allowed me to focus all my efforts on the graphics and promotion of the campaign.

    – Finally, Daniel worked closely with our team to ensure the numbers made sense for the campaign. This meant making sure the price point, funding goal, and number of backers needed to fund were in a range that gives us the best chance to have a successful campaign.

    Also, I’ll be happy to answer any any questions about working with Daniel and about Loot & Recruit.

    1. Justin,
      Congrats on re-launching your Loot and Recruit game. I think it takes a lot of moxie and strength to pick yourself up and keep fighting…you should be very proud of yourself. Your Kickstarter campaign page looks very nice: The graphics, video and layout all make a lot of sense. I really like the platform mechanism. I like that the information on the platforms is open for all to see. And finally, I like that players can influence other player’s platforms through action cards. I also like the common area where all players have access to the cards through the shop.

      I’m meeting with my gaming group tomorrow and will share the Kickstarter page with everyone. I did have a question about shipping, how did you decide to have the same shipping rate for “everywhere else”? Does “everywhere else” only include European nations and Australia or are Asian and South American Countries included? Did you take an average of the shipping for the “everywhere else” countries to determine the shipping cost? Thanks.

      -Denny

      1. Denny,

        Thanks for the kind comments and I’m happy to hear you like the campaign page and the game!

        I talked with our Publisher and he said they factored in shipping for all countries and got a good rate across the globe through their fulfillment partners. In the end some countries end up getting subsidized a little more then others, but the flat rate makes the campaign crisp and clear.

        They can ship everywhere, including Asian and South American countries. However, if you’re in a country that is known to have issues getting games to backers (like Brazil and Russia) they ask that you contact them to make special arrangements.

        Also, thanks for sharing the Kickstarter page with your gaming group. If you or anyone in your group has any questions don’t hesitate to reach out here, through the campaign page, or on social media.

        Thanks!

  6. Creator of AEGIS here, and I’m happy to answer any questions about that!

    All of Dan’s points here are very valid, and though some of them seem obvious, it’s very easy to overlook them when you’re very attached to your product. The idea of putting up a minimum viable product helped us lower our goal, and I think that was the biggest aspect that led us to become a quick success. I feel like low goals are extremely important for first-time campaigners, because even if you don’t do well you can still get your product out and build momentum for the future, and if you do succeed and do it quickly because of the low target, you end up getting more backers and more attention than if you asked for tons of money at the get-go.

    But yeah, Dan was a huge help to us with the AEGIS relaunch, we were struggling to put together an effective campaign page and goal/tier structure because we had gotten too close to the our game, and he really pushed us towards a direction that worked – and he was only able to do that because he’s been in the weeds so many times working on other campaigns. We had half-run one failed campaign before and learned a book’s worth of info, so the fact that Dan has experienced dozens of campaigns, failures and successes, from first and second-hand… it was a very useful perspective to have.

    I am able to ask him specific questions about this reviewer, or this manufacturer, or this methodology and he would be able to give me examples why that thing would or wouldn’t be worth the time and money, and could give me or connect me to concrete alternatives to try. That sort of insight/resource is invaluable, and was way better than asking publically on the various Facebook groups/forums where you often get vague and brief answers that tend to contradict one another and put you in a thicker fog of ambiguity.

  7. Daniel,

    Great stuff! Before launching both our latest KS and the previous one, which proved highly successful, we looked at those campaigns to find a common thread and as you pointed out, and has been stressed by Jamey since the beginning, you need to have many Backers on Day 1, coupled with the rules, great art, and an energetic spirit. We love our Backers, and most recently our game hit the #2 position on Kicktraq, out of some 4,000+ projects. It’s communication…all of the time!

    Cheers,
    Joe

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